Thinking Historically (Part Two)

OrwellThe amount of information at our fingertips is amazing. Never, in the history of humanity, have we had so much information so readily available for consumption. What perhaps makes it so remarkable is that it is a remarkably new phenomenon. A hundred years ago, even 40 or 50 years ago the world seemed like a much larger, much more distant place. Now, with the internet, 24-hour news networks, smartphones and tablets, we have almost instant access.

Yet, the inherent problem becomes our short attention spans. Bombarded with an almost constant stream of information, we don’t necessarily have the time for it all. So, to remain informed, we need it boiled down to nothing more than a short blurb, or a headline, to something we can just glance over quickly, and skim for the important details. Clear and concise, in many instances, is marked by a startling lack of details, and, in that, significant, sometimes vital facts.

It isn’t perhaps that surprising then when it spills over into other aspects of our education, doing a great disservice to our understanding.

All too often we tend to look at history in the same way, in the same manner, boiling it down to a key point or two that is easy to glance at and browse through, but that offers remarkably little insight or understanding. In many ways, it is used to make a point, often not even an accurate one, rather than to enlighten, educate and inform. In that sense it ends up doing more harm than good to our ability to think historically as it creates a false sense of expertise or education that does not have the background knowledge that is necessary to help the decision making process.

What we tend to forget is that history is more than just trivia. It is more than just dates, and places and names. It is more than just a simple record of what we have done, or where we have been. It can’t be whittled away at until it is nothing more than a list or a headline or a series of singular points with no contextual background or information, not without losing the purpose or the meaning that is behind it. It is a guide for learning, meant to edify and to clarify based on the vast experience of human events. In turn this allows us to grow, utilizing the strengths and weaknesses, the victories and defeats of past generations to advance, evolving and progressing in the deeper knowledge that our familiarity with history brings.

The ability to think historically applies the lessons of our past to our present, and, in turn, allows us to prepare for our future. Though, as we discussed last time, no two events occur exactly in the same way, and history never quite repeats itself in the same way, experience, understanding and attention to details reveal the common intertwining of events that offers greater insight to an individual who has well informed him or herself in history. In turn it allows them to have greater clarity in figuring out how it will ultimately work out in the end as they come to a deeper understanding of what the future will bring depending on the course that is ultimately taken.

This means going beyond just the cursory to critically assess the situations and circumstances that contributed to the names, places, events and times.

What we perhaps need to remember is that history, and, in turn, the ability to think historically, is a bit like putting together a puzzle just out of the books. Yes, it helps to seeHeinlein the big picture, allowing for better awareness as to what a person is looking at, but that larger picture is nothing without the smaller pieces that construct it. These need to be painstakingly put together, the differing parts need to be fitted properly, locking in together to create the full scope of the picture in question. In terms of the history, and our understanding of it, these create the broader building blocks that engage us, and create the base that we need to begin our path to comprehending the applicable in our lives. In the end it teaches us what the Tea Tax of 1773 can tell us about the nature of government bailouts and the popular reaction against them, or what treasury policy under Alexander Hamilton teaches us about public debt. It informs us on a host of different topics and issues that are directly applicable to our present age and our current situations so we can devise a better, stronger plan for posterity.

The Founding Fathers were serious students, understanding that it was more than a short blurb, or list of accomplishments or defeats from any particular society. In order to create a lasting, sustaining society, they needed more than just a short list. They had to have a firm understanding and a strong grasp of the history of government, politics, and society. They cultivated it because they knew that if they were to lay out a lasting republic, one that would ultimately stand the test of time, they would have to understand the full nature of government, their successes and their failures, and build from a foundation that had already been well established through the course of history. Now, as those who have inherited that which they had built, we need to follow that same example that they have laid out. This means avoiding the pitfalls of our present age, and focusing ourselves.

Ultimately the immense amount of information at our fingertips can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how we choose to use it. If it is nothing more than trivia, then we have to question what the point of it all truly is. But if we use it to delve deeper, to build on a firmer understanding, to build our knowledge base, and, in turn, inform our decision making then we have a unique opportunity to create a stronger, more viable future that expands on the lessons that have been learned throughout our past.


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